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  • private sector vs public sector fire inspector

    I,am doing a research paper and am looking for input good and bad on the differences between a public fire inspector and one of the private sector any information regaurding this would much be appreciated

    Strugling shift commander here in Florida

  • #2
    flhazmat,

    I am not certain as to what you mean by “public” vs. “private” inspectors. If, by “public”, you mean a firefighter assigned to Fire Prevention as an inspector as opposed to a “civilian” (private) hired into a Fire Prevention Bureau, my experience would indicate pros and cons for both.

    I have always considered the lack of firefighting experience of a civilian inspector as a detriment. However, I have seen some very good civilian inspectors. If you go in this direction, I suggest you provide some limited fire training and take them to the fire scene either during the incident or immediately after to observe the destructiveness of fire. Hopefully, it will give them an appreciation for what they do.

    Code enforcement needs to be more than theory and books. There needs to be an appreciation for fire and a positive attitude. I know an inspector who was more concerned with the number of days to retirement than in code compliance.

    I have found some firefighters who get assigned to inspections ignore the codes and assume that they know what are code violations because they have seen a lot of fires. This is not good.

    Regardless of which type of inspector you choose, I strongly recommend:

    1) Create a position that is long term. Do not rotate firefighters through fire prevention a an annual or biannual cycle. They barely get up to speed with understanding code requirements when they see the light at the end of the tunnel and return to the line.

    2) Make sure the budget includes training. The codes and standards are constantly changing. If you use a firefighter or civilian that has no knowledge, then extensive training is a must. Try the National Fire Academy’s Prevention series. The ‘rookie” should be assigned to an experienced inspector for several months before a solo inspection.

    3) You may want to phase in the types of inspections. Start with simple ones first. Save the more complicated ones after they have developed inspection skills. A rookie simply cannot properly inspect a sprinkler system or a fire alarm system or a haz mat installation.

    4) Training must include how to interact with people - owners, contractors, engineers, and architects. Each of these must be treated differently (I could go on for pages about this one).

    5) Will the inspector be responsible for investigations also? If so the civilian will need extensive training and experience. Again, try the NFA.

    6) The inspector (public or civilian) must understand that he/she cannot make up requirements. The “Bluff” code and the “Because I say so” code simply do not work in this litigious age.

    7) Even though I mentioned training before, I’ll say it again, TRAINING. Remember, the inspector must understand many different areas of fire protection (sprinklers, standpipes, hydraulic calculations, clean agent systems, wet chemical systems, means of egress, fire resistive requirements, occupancy requirements, etc.) Contractors specialize - sprinkler contractors deal only with sprinkler systems, etc. It should stand to reason that a sprinkler contractor would know more than the inspector. This is not always the case. Actually, I have found many inspectors to know more about sprinkler systems than sprinkler contractors. The inspector simply cannot rely on the contractor (any of them) to install the system correctly.

    8) The inspector must be professional. Learn to say “I don’t know. Let me check it out.”

    On the other hand, if by “private sector” inspector you mean a private company that provides inspection (probably including plan review) services, many of the above also apply.

    1) Your plans should be reviewed by the same person(s) consistently. Don’t let them send your plans to another office in another state ( I have seen this happen). Don’t let them use any of 16 people to serv your department. Restrict it to the minimum amount you need for your jurisdiction.

    2) Make sure they have a copy of your ordinances.

    3) Have them submit their invoices to your department. You should pay them, not the contractor, owner, architect, etc. as their loyalties may become tainted.

    4) Make sure they are competent in the areas you desire. You may need them only for haz mat plans and inspections.

    5) Make sure they receive training - perhaps it should be a condition of their contract.

    6) If they have provided services to other departments, check with those departments as to their competency and how well they interact with the public. I know a private company that uses a retired fire inspector to do plan review. This person makes the same mistakes he made when working for the fire department. At best I would grade him as a C-. You may want to test the person on certain code issues. Take a look at some of his/her plan reviews and correction letters (particularly critique spelling and syntax).

    7) It would be best, IMHO, to have the person report to your office to do the plan reviews. This establishes a better level of communication between your department and the private inspector. He/she should report on a scheduled basis - 5 days per week, 3 days per week, etc. There will invariably be contact with the public, owners, architects, engineers, contractors, etc. and having the contract person available at the fire department is the most efficient way of facilitating such meetings.

    I hope this helps. If you need additional info, let me know.

    Jim Feld

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